Venezuela’s opposition has called for a nationwide strike against President Nicolas Maduro, to protest against his plan to rewrite the constitution, ratcheting up tensions after an unofficial vote rejecting his proposal.
The 24-hour strike call, issued on Monday, was part of what the opposition called a “final offensive” aimed at forcing Maduro out through early elections before his term ends in 2019.
“We are calling all the country to take part in a massive and violence-free protest through a nationwide civic strike for 24 hours,” said one leader in the opposition coalition, Freddy Guevara.
He said the stoppage was a “mechanism for pressure and to prepare for the definitive escalation to take place next week”.
“The opposition is stepping things up,” Al Jazeera’s John Holman, reporting from Cucuta in neighbouring Colombia, said. “Basically it is all or nothing for them.”
On Sunday, in an event organised by the opposition, more than a third of Venezuela’s 19 million voters rejected Maduro’s bid to have a citizens’ body called a “Constituent Assembly” elected on July 30 to redraft the constitution.
Several countries lauded the balloting, with White House spokesman Sean Spicer saying on Monday that it sent an “unmistakable statement” to Maduro and his government.
The EU’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, said that Maduro should suspend his plan, or he “risks further polarising the country and increasing confrontation”.
Brazil’s foreign ministry said in a statement “the high turnout in the plebiscite… was an unmistakable sign the Venezuelan people want democracy quickly restored.” It also called on Maduro to shelve his Constituent Assembly idea.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos plans to discuss the Venezuelan crisis during a visit with President Raul Castro of Cuba, Venezuela’s closest regional ally, Colombia’s foreign minister said.
|More than a third of Venezuela’s 19 million voters rejected Maduro’s bid to rewrite the change the constitution [Getty Images]|
Maduro and his government, backed by a loyal military, have dug in against the opposition tactics and the international criticism.
Despite growing public anger over a spiralling economic crisis, authorities in Caracas portray the efforts against them as illegitimate and the result of interference from the “imperialist” US.
There are fears, however, that the stepped-up confrontation could worsen violence in Venezuela’s streets.
Since April, when anti-Maduro protests and police pushback turned bloody, 96 people have died.
The opposition set the scene for the strike with its vote on Sunday, which it called a “plebiscite” but which the government dismissed as “illegal.”
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Electoral authorities, who have systematically sided with Maduro against the opposition-controlled legislature, denied authorisation for the balloting.
Academics who oversaw the symbolic poll as guarantors of its credibility counted a turnout of more than seven million voters, undermining legitimacy for Maduro’s future Constituent Assembly.
Political analyst John Magdaleno told AFP new agency that “there is evidence of a persistent and durable demand for political change”.
The result of Sunday’s vote may not have been binding, but Venezuela “sent a clear message to the national executive and the world,” announced Central University of Venezuela president Cecilia Garcia Arocha, one of several experts who oversaw Sunday’s vote.
Maduro has insisted his proposed Constituent Assembly is “the only path” to peace and economic recovery. Thus far, he has shown no sign of backing down.
Maduro and the military dominate most state institutions but the opposition controls the National Assembly and holds three of 23 governorships. The country’s chief prosecutor has recently broken with the ruling party.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies